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Innovation Under Duress: How OneWorld Health Pivoted to Make a Huge Impact during COVID-19

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Michael O’Neal OneWorld Health

We talked to Michael O’Neal of OneWorld Health about Care that Endures and here is what he said about it.

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times? 

Michael O’Neal: My family and I are well, which makes me tremendously grateful. We have two school-aged kids so it’s an interesting time, to say the least. But I’ve been able to travel less which means more time with my family!

Tell us about you, your career, how you joined OneWorld Health.

Michael O’Neal: I was exposed to different cultures at an early age and have always had a passion for working across cultural boundaries. This led me to do graduate studies in International and Economic Development. When two of my close friends started OneWorld Health I joined in the early days. I spent my two years in Uganda managing our first medical facility before moving back to the US and continuing to grow our organization.

How does OneWorld Health innovate? 

Michael O’Neal: Our key innovation in the global health space is our sustainable model. We use our fundraising capacity to cover capital expenditures for building, and launching our healthcare facilities. Then we offer fee-for-service care, priced affordably to target the vast majority of people in Uganda, Nicaragua and Honduras. Within 18-24 months, our facilities are operationally sustainable.

We are focused on innovation under duress, responding to the crisis by stepping up and seeking solutions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we created a COVID-19 screener, offered telehealth, and home delivery of medications. Our team is agile enough to create and launch new tools so they can be implemented when the need is greatest. 

How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?

Michael O’Neal: A King’s College Study this spring reported that the COVID-19 pandemic could push an additional 500 million people into poverty, and erase over 10 years of anti-poverty work globally. 

For us, this pandemic means our work is more important than ever, while our patients have fewer resources to invest in their health. We’ve been able to adjust our fee-for-service model to ensure that no one is turned away because of the expense. This helps us maintain our presence in the community and continue to build trust. 

Additionally, the pandemic has prevented us from sending any of our global volunteer teams, who typically do outreach to more rural communities. In light of this, we have equipped our staff to set up medical brigades in rural communities, ensuring these families get the care they need and our relationships are maintained.                                                                                                                              

Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?

Michael O’Neal: Facing COVID in a medical setting requires many difficult choices to ensure the safety of our staff and patients. In Central America, we had to decide when to close down due to COVID exposures, and how to determine when it was safe to re-open. 

In Uganda, we have an in-patient hospital, requiring us to balance keeping non-COVID patients safe, while supporting the community. We were fortunate to have the space to open an isolation unit for patients showing COVID-19 symptoms.

Rather than lessons learned, we’ve had lessons confirmed. This experience has demonstrated how important it is that we are locally staffed, and in-country centric. We strive to support our local staff, through food support, additional training and PPE, because we recognize their work on the frontlines. They are stepping up and serving in the face of lockdowns in their communities and while every other member of their community has lost their job. Our staff really are the heart and soul of what we are able to do. 

What specific tools, software and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?

Michael O’Neal: At the start of the pandemic, we launched telehealth using the WhatsApp platform to ensure accessibility to our patients. The ubiquity of cellphones and WhatsApp made it easy for our patients to receive virtual consultations, something that was entirely new in every community we serve. 

We were able to leverage social media and radio to reach over 1 million people with public health programming. This allowed us to become a trusted source of accurate information in uncertain times. 

From a management perspective, we have relied on our Core Values; Service, Humility, Integrity, Empowerment, Love, and Dignity to guide our decision making. That has included bringing a counsellor in to walk our team through processing all that has impacted our patients and communities in the midst of these unprecedented times.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Michael O’Neal: Our success is our sustainability decades from now. With the mission of providing quality, affordable healthcare to communities in need, we partner with other organization and community leaders to ensure our impact lasts. As we remain open, offering competent, quality care families will continue to trust us with their health

Your final thoughts?

Michael O’Neal: Sustainability matters, and investing in something that last means a generational change in East Africa and Central America. We are harnessing the power of businesses, community organizations, churches and volunteers to build healthier communities that last. We are always looking for more partners, and would love for you to reach out!

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Kossi Adzo is the editor and author of He is software engineer. Innovation, Businesses and companies are his passion. He filled several patents in IT & Communication technologies. He manages the technical operations at

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